Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

By: Bill Wagner, NISOA National Clinician and Assessor

Have you ever considered the number of decisions that must be made by the NISOA official during the course of a single college game? No matter what number you decided upon, it probably doesn’t match the real number that was required in the typical regular season competition. The point I would like to make is that most of the decisions made during a college game go unnoticed until that point in the game where the decision impacts the outcome of the game.

It could be argued that all decisions made during the course of the game can impact the outcome, and I couldn’t disagree. However, I am referring to the decision that is required to be made that has been called the “Moment of Truth” for the game official. As one example: with the score tied in the final two minutes of regulation time a foul occurs in the vicinity of the penalty area by a defender. The decision that could impact the outcome of this game is whether the foul was inside or outside of the penalty area. A moment of truth! It is at this point where all the other correct decisions that were made during the game may be completely forgotten because this decision was made incorrectly. Awarding the penalty kick or not in this situation could definitely affect the outcome of the game and it will be remembered!

Now this situation may seem to be the responsibility of the referee, and quite likely that is so. But what if the referee is not in a good position to see exactly where the foul occurred? At this point it may fall to the Assistant Referee to communicate to the referee the location of the foul, and at that point the AR is involved in making the decision that impacts the outcome of the game. I bring this up to remind all readers that while the number of decisions made by the referee during the game is usually more than those made by the Assistant Referees, any of the officials in the crew could be making that decision that impacts the outcome of the game.

The key to correct decision making is maintaining focus and concentration for the entire period of the match. This may be easier for the referee due to the flow of the game. However, there can come the time late in the game where lack of fitness or other distractions can affect the referee’s concentration and a critical decision will be made incorrectly. Assistant referees who have not been challenged for much of the game can become victims of ball watching and, losing concentration, fail to make a correct offside decision. This lack of concentration can result in either a game winning goal that should not have been allowed or denies what could have resulted in the game winning goal being allowed. In either case, the lack of focus and concentration by one or more of the officials resulted in a decision that affected the outcome of the game.

How do officials maintain the desired focus and concentration for the entire game? Certainly fitness plays a most important role. Any official who “runs out of gas” before the end of the game is likely to make poor decisions one of which could impact the outcome. The pace of play may impact decision making. The game that seems to be going along in slow motion suddenly shifts into high gear. The official who has been lulled to sleep by the slowness of play is suddenly left behind play either in the center of the field or along the touchline. Not keeping up with play affects the quality of the decisions required of the team of officials.

There are some techniques that can be employed to assist in maintaining the desired level of concentration and focus for the ninety minutes. High levels of personal fitness are certainly invaluable but not all officials approach their personal fitness programs in the same manner. Another technique involves eye contact among the crew. At stoppages in play, the referee should make eye contact with at least the lead AR every time. Eye contact with the trail AR should be made as often as possible during stoppages. Get a “thumbs up” from the ARs to keep them in the game. Communicate during the pregame conference and as needed throughout the match. Distractions occur but good communications minimize the dangers.  Letting the ARs know they have made a good decision that made a difference encourages them to feel a part of the team and shows both coaches and players that the team of officials is, in fact, working as a team.

We all work hard to be in the position to make correct decisions as needed during the game. Make sure that you set a personal goal of maintaining your focus and concentration for the entire match. None of us wants to be involved in making the decision that impacts the outcome of the game unless it is the correct decision.